Until University of Louisville offensive coordinator Garrick McGee informed him that he would be taking over on the Cardinals during the third quarter on Saturday, it had been 11 quarters since we last saw sophomore quarterback Will Gardner behind center.
When he left the field following a late hit to his knee on September 20, the Cardinals were enjoying a comfortable 31-3 third quarter lead at Florida International, but it was a different scenario when he had his number called against Clemson. The U of L passing game was struggling to find any sign of success, managing a mere 62 yards in three and half quarters of play.
With his team trailing 17-10 with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter, Gardner joined his team on the field and was immediately asked to throw the ball down the field.His first attempt landed at the field of an open Keith Towbridge and then his second – a toss to Eli Rogers along the sideline – also fell incomplete. Following a false start that set up a 3rd and 15 at Clemson 45, Gardner found an open James Quick for 22 yards. Two plays later, he hit Rogers in stride for a 22-yard touchdown to even the score at 17-17.
“I thought he came in and gave us a lift,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said after the game. “That first drive where he hit the big play and then got Eli down the middle really helped us and gave us a chance. He made some good decisions.”
Gardner chalked it up as doing what is asked of him and creating confidence.
“We've struggled all year at times,” he said. “We just have to go out there and play with energy. Just a couple passes here and there got the guys confidence back up. Reggie played well in the first half. There was nothing out the extraordinary that made that drive successful. We just got out there and got guys open.”
With the exception of the two early incompletions and another pass that was deflected while under heavy rush, and Gardner was a rather impressive 10-of-13 for 150 yards and a touchdown. He connected with 5 different receivers and he was also able to avoid being sacked.
“It felt good to get back out there, but we fell short tonight,” said Gardner. “I'm proud of how we fought tonight, but a loss hurts. It's hard to take that.”
On the season, Gardner has played in five games, starting four, and has completed 73 of 128 attempts for 948 yards, with 9 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.